A shambolic home defeat. Players scrapping in training. And all just days before the biggest game of the season. It’s all very Chelsea, isn’t it?
The club is one that seemingly thrives on drama. It’s why several successes – not least the Champions League win of 2012 – have followed high-profile managerial departures. Why countless players have stepped up over the years when their reputations and character have been questioned.
The 14-match unbeaten run that followed Thomas Tuchel‘s appointment at the end of January was the perfect encapsulation of the above.
Those on the periphery of the first-team squad under Frank Lampard became key figures in the team and produced a level of performance rarely seen during their careers at Stamford Bridge.
As a result, Chelsea surged up the Premier League table and eased into the Champions League quarter-finals and the FA Cup semi-finals. All appeared right at the club. Maybe that was a problem.
Cue the drama.
Not only did Tuchel’s side capitulate against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, losing 5-2 at Stamford Bridge to the side sitting 19th in the Premier League, but in training on Easter Sunday, Antonio Rudiger and Kepa Arrizabalaga came to blows.
It was an incident sparked in a small-sided game. Sources have confirmed to football.london – and as first reported by The Telegraph – the German defender, who was on a team losing heavily, went in late and recklessly on the Spanish goalkeeper.
An argument between the pair quickly escalated to a physical altercation after which Rudiger was sent inside by Tuchel. football.london understands more than one Chelsea player was shocked by what unfolded.
Rudiger later apologised to Kepa and Tuchel, according to reports, doesn’t believe there will be any lasting resentment between the two players.
The Chelsea head coach will be asked about the incident in tomorrow’s press conference ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League clash with Porto. And he will, almost certainly, play it down and give little away. That’s completely understandable.
His actions will speak louder, however, and it will be interesting to see whether Rudiger is named in the Blues’ starting XI for the game against the Portuguese side.
The 28-year-old was rested against West Brom on Saturday and given Chelsea shipped five goals in that game, the natural assumption is he will instantly return on the left of the backline. But if Rudiger is omitted from the side, he can have no complaints.
Bust-ups and disagreements in training are more regular than perhaps many realise. Given the pressures that come with top-level professional football, that is no great surprise.
Yet initiating a scrap with a team-mate is not behaviour that should be simply brushed off, and especially not be followed with a start in Chelsea’s highest-profile game of the campaign.
That’s the dilemma Tuchel faces, though. The German spoke only last week about the bond between his squad and the “top guys in the dressing room”. He can’t afford to make a decision that impacts that togetherness given the important games to come.
And Tuchel only needs to look at his predecessor, Frank Lampard, to know how quickly things can unravel at Stamford Bridge.
Earlier this season, Chelsea were unbeaten in 17 matches under the club legend. They then suffered a couple of defeats and soon the roof fell in with the Blues in wretched form and countless stories emanating from within the dressing room of unrest and unhappiness with Lampard among key figures.
football.london understands Tuchel is well-liked and respected by all the players in the first-team squad. So it’s unlikely a similar collapse that occurred under Lampard will be repeated.
But the dynamics of a 25-man strong group are fragile and it’s why the 47-year-old coach will know he has to handle things carefully this week.
If it doesn’t, then expect more drama. Although given Chelsea’s history, that wouldn’t necessarily stop them from being successful.